Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Invasion

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Experiment, Downfall)
Screenplay: Dave Kajganich
Producer: Joel Silver
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 93 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Misael Soto
     I can't exactly pinpoint why but I've always been fascinated by films like The Invasion. And I'm not simply referring to the Body Snatchers films (which this is the fourth incarnation of), but similarly paranoid, socially conscious sci-fi in general. Going as far back as the 50s, these films draw very clear parallels and criticize the society in which they are created while simultaneously scaring the day-lights out of viewers. Perhaps I'm just a sucker for discovering, contemplating, and debating symbolism and meaning in easy to read films such as these. Then again, I do like some kind of intellectual challenge. The Invasion, Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel's first English-language film, sadly does not present any said challenge, only one of many of the film’s problems.

      The original theatrical materialization of the "Body Snatchers" novel, Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is a classic of the genre and a personal favorite of mine. The movie has since been remade three times including Philip Kaufman’s brilliantly updated 1978 film by the same name and Abel Ferrara’s underappreciated Body Snatchers from 1993. All these manifestations enveloped socio-political concerns and were reactions to the cultural climate of their given era.

      With The Invasion we once again have a case of socially conscious, if severely flawed, sci-fi. We follow a concerned mother and psychiatrist (Nicole Kidman) in Washington DC trying to save her son and her self. A US space shuttle crash lands on its way back to Earth. From the sky alien-contaminated debris falls on unsuspecting Americans who are eventually infected in their sleep and then spread the alien organism on to new hosts. This time around the infected (they are no longer known as "pod people" as in the earlier versions of the story) are much more rational in their methods and eerily convincing. Those who are infected have developed a much stronger case in their defense over the five decades since the original novel and film’s release. They’re completely dispassionate towards one another and promise a safer, more productive and civilized world. The utopian society they guarantee is exactly what political activists and leaders have wanted and pledged but failed to deliver for the past couple of centuries. While tempting, this kind of society lacks passion and emotion of any kind. For better or worse we cannot have love and peace without hatred and ignorance. This is what it means to be human.

      While this might sound like the best, most profound, incarnation of the story yet it’s widely known something went horribly wrong during the production of the film, probably the reason why this great premise is so terribly wasted here. As many might be aware before seeing the film, the movie released in theaters is not the original version of The Invasion. After the film’s completion unsatisfied studio heads decided to call in V for Vendetta director James McTeigue for numerous re-shoots. It's said that 2/3 of the film was re-written and shot. One can only assume, from his previous work, that the film Hirschbiegel produced was a much more subtle and less action/chase-filled movie then the one released in theaters.

      The only problem I think can be attributed properly to this severe overhaul is the film's confusing screenplay and editing. It felt exactly as though it were two films spliced together non-sequentially at various points throughout. From the beginning something is very wrong with the film’s plot. We are thrown into the middle of the story before the opening credits even roll for no apparent reason other than to pump the audience’s adrenaline before dying down into the true beginning of the story. There are many over edited scenes that are simply confusing and annoying.

      Some of the main characters and their relationships are drastically underdeveloped. There isn’t enough dialogue and attention to detail in order for us to care about these peoples’ lives. When we’re asked to feel for them our emotions are strained or nonexistent. New Bond Daniel Craig's character could easily be mistaken for one of the infected since his character is such a bore. As soon as the screenplay gets too talky, smart, or (dare I say) philosophical chases and explosions appear seemingly at random. The more I think about it the more I can picture where the film was reshot and where it went wrong, and thus it can easily be assumed that Hirschbiegel's original cut was far superior to the version released. The Invasion, it turns out, is yet another victim of the mega corporations’ takeover of Hollywood.

      The Invasion brings up a multitude of interesting, thought provoking questions that are never answered or hardly delved into. Within the infected humans’ psyche any form of prejudice and all hostilities are erased. We get sound bites and small lines of dialogues stating how across the world conflicts between nations have been resolved. President Bush can be seen on CNN as he shakes Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's hand. Is this not what man wants? Isn't it what we've yearned for since, oh I don't know, Jesus Christ? Instead of answering these provocative questions in an equally provocative manner which could’ve led to one of the most brilliant films of the year we are given another 28 Days Later style chase scene after another that, while exciting, ultimately amounts to a wasted opportunity. The ending feels rushed, anticlimactic, and would’ve been a let down if the rest of the film wasn’t one already.

      With all of this being said, there are times (as few and far in between as they are) when The Invasion is utterly fascinating. A particular dinner scene with Kidman’s character and her colleagues provides enough brain food to last the rest of the dumbed-down film. And certain moments of subtle terror are amazingly powerful. Why the rest of the film isn’t more like this is beyond me. One can only hope that a superior directors cut floats above after the wreckage settles from this catastrophe.

Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer

Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site

Posted by Andrew James in

(118) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
Next entry: The Libertine Previous entry: Rush Hour 3
  1. A second opinion.

    While I pretty much agree with everything you wrote, Misael, I liked the movie much more than only two stars.

    Sure the casting isn’t right and the ending sucked and I didn’t like the way the message was forced down our throat instead of just letting us get it on our own (I particularly hated the last line of the film - Kidman recalling in her mind what the Russian professor had said to her at dinner), not sure I liked the fact that it was a blood born disease that could be cured instead of the pod thing.  Andlastly I didn’t like all the Hollywood car chase crap either.

    BUT, there were so many individual scenes that worked well for me.  Not to mention the whole idea of the story, even if it isn’t put together particularly well, is still captivating and spooky.  The pod people freak me out no matter what; and the idea of not knowing who you can and can’t trust (even family members you’ve known for years) is frightening.  And there is no way to find ouyt if you can trust them without giving yourself away.  That WORKS!  I don’t know why or how, but the story is so brilliant that it just works.

    I know that I’m in a very small minority but I quite enjoyed the film despite all of its flaws. I found myself very often biting my nails or tensed up.  There is nothing as offputting as a hundred people on the street turning their heads in unison at you and then chasing you down the street.

    Andrew James  on  08/22  at  10:50 PM
  2. I hated this movie because the pods in this case actually snatched the writer and director (how very meta!) and replaced them with the Wachowski and James McTeigue to rewrite the script and re-direct a 3rd of the film after the initial cut was turned it (Can you say Exorcists Prequel?)

    So many good ideas and images wasted for cheap disposable action and boy oh boy is the stitching/editting (if you can call it that) terrible here.  It’s more jarring than almost any film I’ve ever seen, approaching Ed Wood proportions of flim-flam despite good actors and a healthy budget.  The Invasion is a great experiment in watching a good film collapse in on itself because of a faulty underlying philosophy of what it wants to be.

    Never has Jeffry Wright been so shafted...all he gets to do is deliver reaaaaaly bad (Ed Wood Again) exposition.  What a waste of a talented actor.

    To say that the ending is rushed is to say that shit flows through a goose rather leisurely.

    Kurt  on  08/22  at  11:22 PM
  3. The problems Kurt have mentioned are the very reason I’m boycotted this movie. Not because it’s going to convince the studios anything that Jonathan Burdick refuses to see their film, but just as a matter of principle. I’ll give it a watch on DVD if a friend rents it, otherwise, I just can’t bare watching it, even with the positives that you mentioned, Andrew. It’s a shame, because I’m a HUGE fan of the 1956 version.

    Just thinking about the nerve of the producers and the studio for completely changing the film and bringing in the Wachowski brothers (two guys that I don’t think have NEARLY the talent that most people feel they have) and James McTeigue out of all people… it just infuriates me… infuriates me almost as much as everything I see for the Halloween remake does.

    Who am I kidding though… I bet when this makes it’s way to the dollar theatre (which looks like it will be soon), I’ll probably look past my principles and see it anyway. At least then I can see how I really feel and rant accordingly. Just like I say I’m going to skip the Halloween remake… I know that I’m going to hate it - I KNOW IT - but my curiosity is going to get the best of me and I’m going to want to tear it apart completely, scene by scene, moment by moment, because it will make me feel better about myself!

    Jonathan  on  08/23  at  07:00 AM
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